Irresponsible King, A Transformation Story

Davis Finch Shares His Story of Watching How This Amazing Horse Changed Over Time

Irresponsible King (KY)
TB, CH, G, FOALED MAY 10, 2002 
5 starts 0 wins, 2 Seconds, 1 third winnings of $20,400
When I first toured Square Peg, back in 2011 at Canyon Creek ranch off
highway 92, I met several horses. One of the most memorable was an excitable 9-
year-old chestnut son of KingMambo with the barn name Stan. An exquisite
gelding who raced under the name Irresponsible King, I was told he was so
dangerous only Joell could ride him, and even she could not always stay on. When
I went to pet LeRoi, an older paint gelding who gave me my first ride, Stan butted
in and bit him in the face. Even then, he wanted to be the center of attention.

Once I got to know him better, I learned that while he was a handful, he was also
quite friendly and was eager to please, given the right circumstances. Still, I never
dreamed that someday I would ride him.

During our almost ten years at Kastl Rock ranch, Stan aged and probably
mellowed out a little, but still had his antics. He had a penchant for jumping, was a
presence in the arena and if he got loose, let’s just say it would be an exciting
afternoon. However, he also grew more trustworthy under saddle, so much so that
Joell started letting teenage volunteers ride him. Eventually she even started using
him in lessons. He was reliable on the lunge line and developed a nice trot. By the
time Square Peg left for Ocean View, he was the “old man” of the off-track
thoroughbreds but still had plenty left.

Since coming to Ocean View and living in a pasture full time, Stan has
become a schoolmaster. He is now nicknamed “grandpa” and his quirks have
become more endearing than dangerous. He loves the supplements I feed him and
greets me at the gate each time I arrive. I have started riding him and have
discovered his trot to be wonderful. While trail rides are not his thing, he is one of
Square Peg’s best horses in the arena with a good walk/trot/canter and often a calm
and happy demeanor. As the patriarch of the herd, he will show younger, more
recently arrived horses who is boss in the pasture, especially when there is food
involved. With people he is usually gentle and loves attention, snuggles and treats.

Author Davis Finch riding Irresponsible King aka: Stan

Even though he is calmer than he once was, he is still a sensitive
horse. The good side of this temperament is he is highly responsive under saddle
and reciprocates emotionally when I ride him. He is also very intelligent and
will be waiting at the gate closest to me, even if he has to cross the pasture to be
there. There are still moments when the fire that got him dubbed “the terror of Bay
Meadows” in his racing days shows through, but it is rare enough that it seems
almost quaint. Due to an old palate injury from the racetrack, he has always
roared, but now it more of a sweet purr. He is Square Peg’s beautiful and quirky

New Voices, New Perspectives

Square Peg Foundation is in its (ahem!) 20th year…. The stories we’ve amassed over the years are rich and sweet and even when it’s a story about loss, we’ve looked for the lessons and celebrated the joys.

Our commitment as we look to the next 20 years is to bring in new voices that bring fresh perspectives while upholding the value we place on playfulness, joy, and curiosity.

Mike walked into our lives about a month ago. Mike has a sense of timing and fun. Mike looks at a horse and feels their personality and his quick mind begins spinning stories, songs, and ultimately, movies.

Needless to say, Mike and I hit it off immediately and the horses adore him.

Mike is going to be producing content for Square Peg and I can’t wait to let you see what he’s going to serve up for us.

I hope you love his first musical video half as much as we do. Stay tuned for a series of interviews Mike will conduct with the Square Peg herd.

Coastside Gives is well underway with a local day of giving culminating on May 2, 2024.

You can support us by clicking the graphic below to donate and/or sharing this post on your socials.

Stay Quirky and stay tuned for more of Mike’s interviews with the horses!

The Dancing Bear

We’ve just returned from a memorial for a mother, artist, musician, wife, autism advocate, photographer – a woman whose warmth and smile lit up any room she stepped into. 

Her autistic son opened the memorial by singing “Chasing Angels” a perfect song about loss. He sang and played from his heart and his talent showed through.

As friends and families approached the stage to memorialize our friend, we all had a chance to get to know her better and better through our stories.

Suddenly, I watched as a friend, a man with autism including severe social anxiety stood up and headed from the back of the room to the microphone. He had something to say. 

He introduced himself as autistic and a friend of the deceased and of her family. He recounted a conversation he’d had with her about an autism charity that was developing a reputation from autistic people as disrespectful to people with autism. He was asking our friend why she would support the charity. He related that our friend admitted that to this charity, her musician son was “a dancing bear” but that funds for research and support were important and that her son would prove himself a successful musician irrespective of his autism diagnosis. 

I can’t stop thinking about this entire exchange. 

I’m so grateful my friend voiced the story – that the burning need to showcase this woman’s wisdom and love overrode his anxiety about speaking to a crowd. 

And I can’t get this notion of “a dancing bear” out of my head. 

There’s a saying of Maya Angelo

And when put in the context of “a dancing bear” it’s time for charities and non profits to do so much better. To trade the dignity of another for any amount of funds or advantage is a deal with the devil and we all know how that story ends. 

We must instead focus on letting those with less of a voice be able to tell their own stories. 

Gone are the days when freak shows were opportunities for the masses to see difference and laugh and rejoice because the other’s freakishness confirmed our normalcy. The cruelty of this seems obvious and yet how many times each day are we guilty of some measure of the same? 

I was backstage with a group of speakers for a conference and one of the speakers is a retired infantry soldier with severe PTSD who found tremendous relief of his symptoms in an equine assisted program. He was nervous and I smiled and told him he was going to “do great.” He peered at me and said “I’m going out there to be a chicken dancing on a hot plate for these folks to make them feel better.”

I had no reply. 

If the opposite of love is not hate but indifference, the opposite of compassion is pity.  

A friend wrote a book and a film about his family’s oddysey journey of autism though horses and shamanic healers. He naturally started a program and invited others to experience what he and his son found through horses and neuroscience and traditional healing. People flocked from all over the world in search of a miracle. It was exciting to be sure. 

But it soon became apparent that people wanted to see his son and hold him up as a “miracle child.” The son, young but wise, made it clear that he didn’t want to live in a fishbowl to be watched and studied. He wanted to be a kid who learned and made mistakes and played in rivers and thought deeply about maps and dinosaurs and birds. 

Watching the family navigate how to allow their son to tell his own story while helping other families find their own path is a lesson in dignity I’ll not forget. 

I’m reminding myself today that my liberation is tied up with yours and together we all have the chance to dance and be seen for our unique contributions. 

Rest in Peace Christinna Guzman 7.09.60 – 1.30.24

Center of Attention

In Behaviorism (think B.F. Skinner), humans do things for three reasons only:

To gain access to something

To get away from something, or avoid someone, something

To satisfy a sensory need.

To gain access to something includes getting attention, attunement, or if you will – love. For the record, my spell check refuses to acknowledge “attunement” as a word. It’s something which trauma therapist Sarah Schlotte describes as, “Being seen, being heard, feeling felt, and getting gotten.”

If your neurobiology is such that you, particularly when stressed, can’t ask for attention, attunement or love – you might resort to some seemingly strange behaviors in order to have access to these three critical human needs. 

Meet N. He’s a young man working in our job training program. As an autistic person, he checks off all the boxes – his stimming includes pumping the air with his fists and then hitting himself in the head repeatedly, humming while plugging his ears and rubbing his temples and shutting his eyes in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of sensory input. 

He also does“scripting” which looks like repeating a phrase he’s heard over  and over  – often from a movie, or a video, or a song. For a long time, scripting was viewed as self-soothing behavior and the words were just repeated over and over with no meaning attached. Thankfully, now we see scripting as a sophisticated attempt at communication and is often  filled with rich metaphors as the person chooses the script and to whom it’s delivered. 

N has songs he shares with people at the ranch. He throws out a line of a song and you sing the next line. It gives him great pleasure because it’s the essence of a conversation with a predictable and harmonious give and take. For me, he throws out an old spiritual

“Swing low”

And I come back with

“Sweet chariot”

Sometimes we sing the next line together

“Comin’ for to carry me home.”

I wonder how many people know that the hymn is a prayer of a slave who wishes to die and go to heaven in order to escape the peril and toil of slavery.  I wonder if N knows. 

When N is having a particularly hard day, we give him space. He’ll sit at the picnic table and have conversations with himself and if you listen, he’s trying really hard to “behave.” He’s throwing out lines from people he’s heard who have counseled him. It sounds something like this:

“Gotta be a good guy N. Gotta get to work. Gotta. Hey buddy! How’s it going?”

The other night, we organized a trip to San Francisco’s Exploratorium. It’s a  hands-on science museum where every display is meant not just to teach a scientific concept, but to bring the learner into the experience as a participant. It’s revolutionizing how science museums (and hopefully history museums) are conceptualized. On Thursday nights, they make the museum an adults only event with bars, a DJ and a fantastic vibe where San Franciscans go for dates and an outing that’s fun, hip, and interactive.

Thirty five adult members of #TeamQuirky showed including N and his mom. 

Our guests dispersed all over the museum and Darius and I spent the evening wandering around making sure everyone felt safe and engaged. 

N had a hard time getting started. Seeing people out of context is often an anxiety trigger for him. Seeing his barn buddies in the evening, in clean clothes and styled hair made him worry about whom he’d recognize and what would be required of him socially. 

However, 90 minutes into the event, he was still at the museum and his mom gave us a couple “thumbs up” to let us know they were enjoying themselves and didn’t need additional support. 

As we were leaving for home that night, my phone lit up with photos from N’s mom.

It seems that N absolutely loved a particular interactive display.

One section of the museum is dedicated to emotions and culture. N  found an exhibit called “The Center of Attention.”

You walk through a curtain into what looks like a Photo Booth and stand in front of a microphone facing a wall sized photo of a packed audience (think Carnegie Hall with several balconies). All eyes are on you under spotlights. You say something into the mic 

And then.

The audience erupts in applause. 

Attention. Attunement. Love

Basic. Human. Needs. 

Laughter as Medicine by Joell Dunlap

I had the honor of speaking at the Journey On Podcast Summit in San Antonio, TX last month.

The lineup of speakers was thrilling and intimidating. I’d be sharing the stage with luminaries in the horse world such as Linda Kahonov, Ariana Strozzi Mazzucchi, Chantal Prat, and more. I wondered what I had to offer the audience when compared to researchers, neuroscientists, people who’d ridden from Alaska to Chile, or in the Mongolian Derby for goodnessakes!

I also wanted to try something different. Warwick advised all of the invitees to take our 19 minutes in the spotlight to bring what we wanted to see into the world.

I obsessed over how I’d present the Square Peg story, or perhaps my personal journey. Then it hit me. We often attend conferences like this looking for a hidden truth, a process, a protocol, a snippet of wisdom that enhances our lives, or untangles a knot in our brains or guts. We’re willing to hike to the tops of mountains to meet a guru, or to study at the foot of the master for as long as it takes.

But what if an answer has always been right at our fingertips? What if there’s a magic potion in our pocket or at least just within reach that makes it all better?

This is the topic of my talk.

I was willing to go to some uncomfortable places to get us all to that place – to that medicine.

I had two secret weapons with me. Two key staff, Emma Bond and Kemma Peters accompanied me to San Antonio. They brought the magic sauce with them. Their timing, their willingness, brought it all home.

Continue reading “Laughter as Medicine by Joell Dunlap”